1996 November 29
History Channel Host: Bob Friend
Introduction of Leonard Nimoy as one of the most popular actors ever to climb on board the star-ship Enterprise. Various people's statements are cut in.
Mark Altman: "He was a rock star (while a clip of a con appearance is shown)." (A comment from Spock: "Perhaps caused by some natural phenomena.")
Elliot Silverstein: "It wasn't the ears, it was the personality that lay beneath the actor."
A cut from "Twilight Zone" is shown where Leonard says: "That's right. Still!".
Leonard: "I couldn't see doing anything else. I just decided I got to do this. No matter how tough the struggle." A scene from "Kid Monk Baroni" is shown.
Harve Bennett: "He was trying to overcome something which I have come to known as 'The Star Trek Course'." (Comment from Spock: "Humans make illogical decisions")
William Shatner: "Spock will be remembered, long after the roles he played roles in Shakespeare. He will be remembered." (Spock: "Live long and prosper!")
Adam Nimoy: "The myth and the man, I think, are pretty close." (scenes from Star Trek) Star Trek first aired on September, 8 1966. Thirty years later it has become the quintessential pop culture phenomena.
Mark Altman: "What Star Trek head into was some very mythological theme, archetypes, which got explored. And I think that's why the character were so well doing. They are not just characters, they all represent something. And they were epitomized so well by the actors who played them."
The character Leonard Nimoy played, the cool, logical Vulcan called "Mr. Spock", become the most beloved figure in the Star Trek universe. Spock made Nimoy a star and the character engulfed him for years. In the process of moving away from the character Nimoy made a reputation of a true renaissance man.
Adam Nimoy: "People can recreate themselves; can come back in some splashing form. And I think Dad did that."
Leonard Nimoy's story begins in the Ukraine. His parents knew each other as children. Max, his father, joined many other Jews who escaped the oppression of Russia in the 1880ies. Leonard's mother, Dora, made her escape in a hay wagon. Separately they arrived in Boston.
Melvin, Leonard's elder brother, was born in 1926.
Already in his early years Leonard was always interested in the multicultural world around him.
He was the quietest of the gang and found his own way of fitting in: Leonard became the manager of the baseball team and joined several student organizations. He developed a way to be successful in anything he attempted. After school he sold newspapers.
In the 1940 he became interested in photography and spent hours in the family bathroom to develop pictures.
The focal point in the neighborhood was the Elisabeth Peabody House. It was there that Leonard began to appear in plays where he soon developed a reputation as a promising young actor.
Elliot Silverstein: "Whatever he did he had a heat and warmth behind it. And he meant every word that he acted."
He decided that he had a home in the theatre, but his traditional, Jewish family had more practical goals in mind.
Leonard: "The choices were: Doctor, lawyer, dentist, pharmacist, engineer, any single kind of name, you can hang out like: 'My son is this:' I said 'actor', and they were devastated."
But Leonard was determined. He spent the summer after high school at Boston collage.
He scraped together $700 and, in the fall of 1949 he studied acting in the famous Pasadena Playhouse.
"I thought I had gone to heaven. I was in a theatrical atmosphere, in a theatrical building that had several theatres in it and a main stage. It was all about what I wanted to do."
But his dreams were not fulfilled because his fellow students were mainly disinterested ex-GIs. Leonard quit and worked as a movie usher or a soda jerk.
In 1951 (after a year and a half in Hollywood) he got his first part in a low budget picture called "Queen for a Day."
Leonard: "The experience was indescribable. I was going to act in a movie. It would be seen in theatres all around the United States including Boston. I was absolutely thrilled."
In 1952 Leonard got his first leading role in a low budget feature: "Kid Monk Baroni", playing a young boxer. And Leonard continued to find acting jobs.
In 1953, while acting with a Yiddish theatre in Los Angeles, Leonard met an actress named Sandi Zober. The couple were married in 1954 and quickly found themselves stationed in Atlanta where Leonard chose to enlist in the army - rather than be drafted. In 1955 their first child, Julie, was born. Followed by their son, Adam.
Leonard was discharged from the service and resumed his acting career. Leonard spend long hours working on odd jobs between acting assignments.
Julie Nimoy: "He was married at a very young age and had two children very quickly. And he had to be the provider of the family. He took life very seriously."
Leonard realized his career was going nowhere. He decided the most successful performers were from the revolutionary actor studio from New York, the so called "method actors". Jeff Corey was a well known teacher of the method, and Leonard decided to study with him.
Leonard: "It was great stuff in a very short time. My work changed dramatically. And in a very short time my career changed dramaticaly, too."
By 1960 Leonard's fortune had improved. After ten years of struggle he was beginning to land roles on top network programs. Leonard Nimoy was establishing himself as a reliable often impressive television actor as the 1960ies began.
He was guest – starring on many of the big network shows, usually as "the heavy". His days of struggling were behind him and he was enjoying life with his family.
Adam Nimoy about seeing his father popping up unannounced to him in TV: "He was fantastic."
Leonard also began to teach acting for his mentor Jeff Corey: "I liked the way he thought. And I liked his ambitions". Leonard's ambition kept him working on stage and in films.
In 1962 he opened his own acting studio with Jeff Corey's Blessing. His students included Pat Boone, trumpeter Herb Alpert and Richard Chamberlain.
Susan Bay Nimoy: "So many well known actors today passed through Leonard's classes. He had a very high profile as an acting teacher in Los Angeles for years and years and years."
In the 1960ies America was excited by the possibilities of space travel and reeling from social and political upbeat. Gene Roddenberry was exploring these themes in a weekly science fiction series. He wanted to deal with social and political issues by disguising them as science fiction and fantasy.
Leonard: "It had taken me a while to come from 'Zombies of the Stratosphere', which I did in 1951, as a way of making a buck to support myself to playing guest – starring roles on episodic drama or occasional movie roles in 1964 and I wasn't particularly excited about the idea of damaging all that with some silly character with pointed ears who could be the joke of the television season if it didn't work." Roddenberry named the character "Spock", a half Vulcan, half human alien from the planet Vulcan.
Leonard began a series of make-up test to create realistic versions of the pointed ears.
Adam Nimoy: "He was coming home with these things for a make up test and I was looking at that stuff and I thought 'This is wild, this is incredible". Make up man Freddie Philips eventually came up with the right ears and work began.
In spite of the network's rejection of Spock, Roddenberry stuck with him. William Shatner and DeForest Kelly joined in and Star Trek premiered on NBC television network. Being different from other shows Star Trek gained a loyal audience right from the beginning.
Leonard got steady work after appearing in guest-star roles. "It made me feel - for the first time- a real sense of home... and a real sense of family. A big time, big time."
He had to cloak himself in the character as much as possible to survive the daily 12 hour shooting.
William Shatner: "When I tried to make him laugh, it was kind of reluctant."
Leonard developed a greeting used by the Vulcans. The gesture was based on the letter "shin" used by rabies to bless the congregation.
Leonard Nimoy had become a star in a few months and the change in his life was remarkable. "I took to going to books to look up the word "popularity to find out what other people had written about it. To find out how other people have dealt with it... the most effective for me was a quote of Victor Hugo who said: 'popularity it is the very crumbs of greatness.' That's it. That would hold me for a while." (laughing)
Leonard's popularity led to a busy schedule of personal appearances and song albums. Spock was becoming the most successful character on the show.
By 1969 Star Trek survived by a letter writing campaign organized by the fans. But in the end of the third season NBC cancelled Star Trek.
"They cancelled us and it was over." (laughing ) "Over!" (laughing)
Leonard Nimoy was a household name by the time Star Trek left the air. His popularity immediately paid of. He immediately joined "Mission Impossible" (see: Actor - TVSeries). Leonard's role gave him the opportunity to play a different character each week. Leonard soon tired of the role and quit the hit series after two seasons.
Leonard made several movies but began to find the majority of his work in the legitimate theatre. One of his most successful roles was as Tevje, the milkman of "Fiddler on the Roof". The family got the chance to travel together.
Leonard began a love affair with flying.
Julie Nimoy: "He's always been interested in flying."
By now Star Trek reruns were drawing big audiences. Trekkies were congregating to celebrate Star Trek. Members of the Star Trek crew became heroes and celebrated at conventions. An appearance by Leonard Nimoy took on all the trappings of a major event.
In 1975 Leonard wrote his auto-biography and called it: "I Am Not Spock".
"It was a big mistake," Leonard says. "It came at a time when there was a tremendous hunger for Star Trek and I come up with a book called 'I Am Not Spock'. It wasn't a rejection of the character, but it was perceived that way."
Portraying Goldman in "The Man in the Glass Booth"
As Ciligula in "Caligula
For the next few years Leonard continued to work on other projects, starred in "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers", hosted the long running series "In Search Of..." and starred on Broadway in "Equus". He resolved a licensing dispute about Spock action figures and cleared his busy schedule, but his main concern was the quality of the story before playing Spock again.
The crew of the Enterprise was back together after ten years for "Star Trek – The Motion Picture"
"It was very large, very grand, but somehow it did not capture the excitement, the fun of the original series."
Leonard Nimoy began a new career behind the camera. In many ways the best was yet to come.
He was touring in his one-man-show about painter Vincent van Gogh.
His performance in a "Woman Called Golda" earned him Emmy award nomination and he traveled to China to appear in a movie called "Marco Polo". Harve Bennett needed Leonard to return as Mr. Spock for Star Trek II and suggested to kill him. Spock's death scene was spared until the end of the film and created a sensation.
No one could accept the idea of the series continuing without Spock.
The producers created a plot to resurrect the character and Leonard surprised everyone with a bold suggestion:
He offered to direct the picture. Harve Bennet: "He didn't have to say it very hard because we wanted him back."
Leonard: "There was still something that I could contribute that had not been found yet in the Star Trek movies. I felt I had an accumulated sense of the history and the relationships and the chemistry of the characters. And I asked for the job and I was given it."
The studio was so happy with the work that he as given the next picture: Star Trek IV, "The Voyage Home". Leonard Nimoy had found a new career.
Harve Bennet: "Leonard was born to be a director. You can see in certain actors this need to lead. Intellectually and also because he absorbs everything, Leonard learns very quickly."
He had the chance to express his own vision in the new movie. He teamed with writers Harve Bennet and Nicolas Meyer to create a Star Trek film with a sense of humor.
Leonard: "We felt the sense of elan, the sense of fun, the sense of camaraderie, the sense of a little gleam in the eye, a twinkle and everything fell into place. Magically, it was wonderful." (The car - scene from ST IV is shown).
As Count Mipipopolous in "The Sun Also Rises"
Leonard's star was inducted in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His personal life took a drastic turn. Late in 1986 Leonard separated from Sandi Zober and moved in with Susan Bay, a production executive with a young son. Divorce proceeding began early the next year and Leonard endured a blizzard of tabloid coverage. After having travelled to Russia to promote Star Trek IV and visit relatives, his father died 7 days later and in December his mother died as well.
Leonard returned to his directing career and created a blockbuster with "Three Men and a Baby" which made over $100 million and cemented Leonard's reputation as a top director, but his next two films "The Good Mother" and "Funny About Love" blocked at the box office.
Leonard's life took an upturn on New Year's Day 1989 when he married Susan Bay.
Mrs. Susan Bay Nimoy: "He is a lot of fun, he has got an extraordinary sense of humor, he is playful, boyish, there's a naiveté about him that flies in the face of the sort of all knowing Spock persona."
Leonard served as executive producer of the last Star Trek movie featuring the original cast and passed the torch to the next generation as a guest star on the new Star Trek series. Nimoy continues to work in film and television as an actor, director and producer. He stays busy raising his stepson Aaron and finds lot's of time to spend with his grandchildren.
Leonard Nimoy fulfilled his boyhood dreams. The quiet, serious young boy from the West-end of Boston left an indelible mark on popular culture, a legacy few actors can dream of.
William Shatner: "He still laughs at my jokes, which makes him very dear because he's the only one who does."
Leonard Nimoy: "Until this day I am still moved and touched by people who stop me on the street and say things like: 'My life was changed for the better by your work,' an extraordinary experience for a human being to have."